- Where as the Zags bounced back overall with a solid effort against Kentucky following the blowout loss to Texas, things were a bit different this time around. The Zags were lucky to take a lead into halftime, with Xavier missing quite a few point-blank looks at the rim. Then, Gonzaga’s defense absolutely cratered in the second half. Led by Jack Nunge, Colby Jones, and Souley Boum, Xavier shot an inexcusable 61.8 percent in the final 20 minutes. Honestly, the Zags are lucky they came away with a win.
- Let’s just call the Phil Knight Invitational the Ben Gregg show. Gregg was the first Zag off the bench and ended up seeing 13 minutes of play. His effort and hustle was evident the entirety of the time he was on the court. His final line is maybe “muted” at three points and six rebounds, but he grabbed three offensive boards and played a key role in the game. His solid defense in the closing seconds of the first half prevented Xavier’s final possession, and he followed that up by rolling off a high screen and hitting a very long three point to give the Zags’ a much needed six-point lead at half. That is two consecutive good outings from the young Gregg, who at this point has clearly stepped in front of Efton Reid in the current depth chart.
- Drew Timme was not his usual self in the first half. He shot just 2-of-7 from the floor and owned four of Gonzaga’s nine turnovers. Luckily for Gonzaga, Anton Watson was having himself another one of his shockingly quiet games. Watson led all Zags with 10 points at half, six rebounds, and a steal. He finished 16 points off 5-of-6 shooting, including 4-of-5 from the free throw line.
- Speaking of Drew Timme, it is so fun to watch him take over a game. Coming out of half time, the Zags fed the big man the ball and he responded in kind with four straight buckets on four trips. Timme finished with 16 points, six rebounds, seven assists (!!!), and seven turnovers (!!!!!!!).
- The Zags can still put out a quick run with the best of them (see the key 8-0 run to put this game in almost sure-footing in Gonzaga’s favor), but the offense also has a tendency to just go absolutely ice cold and it is hard to figure out why. Xavier runs a little bit of the pack line defense, which can always make things difficult for an opponent. However, just a merely “fine” defense cannot be the reason that Gonzaga looks totally lost on offense for stretches of time.
- That said, there were plenty of instances last night in which the offense looked like its usual self. Gonzaga scored 23 fast break points and had 23 assists on 31 made field goals. The outside shooting was on point and Gonzaga scored a cool 1.41 points per possession in the second half—a very necessary number since Xavier was scoring 1.43 per possession.
- Shout out to Nolan Hickman, who was a rare bright spot on Friday. Hickman finished with 14 points, four made threes, six rebounds, five assists, and just one turnover. His assist-to-turnover ratio during the PK85 was 7:1. After consecutive four turnover games against Michigan State and Texas, Hickman has just four turnovers in the past four games. Hickman also did a great job of bottling up Xavier’s leading scorer Souley Boum in the first half, holding him scoreless. Boum would go on to finish with 10 points, but he had to work real hard for those points.
- After a stellar game against Portland State, Malachi Smith didn’t exactly follow it up with a good game against Purdue. Add this one to the mix. Same goes for Hunter Sallis, who attempted just two shots and finished with three points. The Zags cannot have two of their major bench contributors combine for just three points and expect to win a game.
- That leads us to Dom Watch. The clamoring for Dominick Harris has been intensifying as of late, but I also think we need to trust that the coaching staff knows what they are doing and, more importantly, expecting out of their players. The idea that Mark Few plays his guys and only his guys is a lazy thought experiment, especially since we have all watched Ben Gregg move past Efton Reid in the rotation right before our eyes. It is easy to arm chair quarterback when the games are tight, or rolling in the wrong direction. At this point, if we aren’t seeing Harris as much as some of us would like to see, there might be an actual reason none of us are aware of since we aren’t coaches and all.
- The second half was really wacky. Xavier looked like they were going to run the Zags off the court. Credit to Julian Strawther for hitting a deep three and then an even deeper three to let Xavier know what is up. After the Zags rattled off a quick 8-0 run, it looked like this game would be Gonzaga’s to take home easily. However, the Zags missed two-consecutive one-and-one front ends in the closing possessions and Watson’s inexcusable foul on a dunk (one of his few negative marks in the game) gave Xavier a chance at winning a game that 90 seconds prior they had no business keeping to such a close score. Those are the sort of late-game antics that will make you lose a game. Mark Few needs to make sure that is tightened up.
10 Observations from Gonzaga’s win over Xavier